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Originally published Saturday, December 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Mayor's son gets 3 months in casino scheme

Jacob Nickels was asked if he was disappointed after a judge on Friday ordered him to prison for taking a bribe and aiding in a multistate...

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Jacob Nickels was asked if he was disappointed after a judge on Friday ordered him to prison for taking a bribe and aiding in a multistate casino-cheating ring.

The 26-year-old former pit boss let his lawyer, Jeff Robinson, answer: "Jacob is disappointed with his behavior. The sentence is a result of that behavior."

Nickels, the son of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, apologized to his former workmates at the Nooksack River Tribal Casino and the Nooksack Tribe and was sentenced to three months at a federal prison camp in Sheridan, Wyo., by U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour.

Mayor Nickels appeared red-faced and emotional as he left the courtroom after the sentencing hearing. He declined to speak to reporters but later issued a statement saying that the sentencing "will help bring this issue to a close.

"This has been a difficult time for our family. ... While the next few months won't be easy for any of us, Sharon [Nickels' wife] and I know that Jake did the right thing by accepting responsibility for his actions and cooperating with investigators," the mayor said.

Robinson had asked the judge for probation, arguing that Nickels' behavior was "aberrant" and the result of a terrific lapse in judgment. "This is without a doubt the biggest mistake of my life," said Nickels, who has cooperated with the investigation and pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to steal from a tribal casino.

Prosecutors and a representative of the Nooksack Tribe urged a five-month prison term, saying Nickels' role in introducing a professional card cheat to two Nooksack casino dealers was integral to a plot that cost the tribe more than $90,000 in gambling losses.

William Coleman, a member of the Nooksack Tribal Council, told the court that money from the Whatcom County casino helps fund health care and housing and provides jobs for the 2,000 tribal members. The losses to the casino hurt those efforts, he said.

"He was a pit boss and he took a $5,000 bribe," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tate London. A prison sentence, he said, will act as a deterrent to others.

In addition to the prison sentence, Nickels will also serve 90 days of home confinement and has been ordered to pay $90,510 in restitution to the tribe.

Nickels was working as a pit boss at the Nooksack casino in 2005 when the government alleges he was approached by George Lee, who asked Nickels to introduce him to card dealers at the casino who might be interested in cheating. Nickels referred Lee to two dealers of the game "mini-baccarat" and was given $5,000.

Robinson, the defense attorney, said Nickels' involvement all but ended after the introductions and that he was not even at work when the cheating occurred. Prosecutors allege that the men stole more than $90,000 from the casino through a card-counting scheme in which the dealers manipulated the shuffle so that certain cards would appear in order. The "players" — including Lee — would then bet heavily on hands they knew would win.

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Several of the defendants in the Nooksack case have also been indicted by grand juries in Tacoma and San Diego in what prosecutors say is "one of the largest card-cheating organizations ever prosecuted by the federal government." Members of the conspiracy, referred to by federal agents as the "Tran Organization," cheated 18 casinos — 10 of them run by Indian tribes — out of more than $1 million.

Friends and family of Nickels had submitted several letters to the judge asking for leniency. His boss at Starbucks says he has recently been promoted. Mayor Nickels wrote: "Certainly, Jake has disappointed us. But we firmly believe that he will pay for his mistake, accept responsibility and become a law abiding, contributing member of our community."

Also Friday, one of the Nooksack casino dealers involved — Kasey McIllup, 23, of East Wenatchee — was sentenced to three months in prison for his role in the scheme.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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